St. Paul farm camp leaves 43 children ill

by Fabiana Torreao

Parents of children attending a farm camp at the St. Paul campus did not seem concerned about an outbreak of a parasitic infection there.
At least three children got sick and 40 others are reported ill after attending the weeklong camp at the St. Paul campus, according to the Department of Health.
“Anytime kids are in contact with animals, things can happen,” said Cindy Cattell, whose 10-year-old daughter Laurel attended the camp last week. “It’s not like you’re going to keep your kids from having contact with animals.”
The parasite cryptosporidium, typically found in the stool of cows and sheep, is transmitted from feces to mouth. Symptoms of the infection it causes include severe diarrhea, stomach cramps and sometimes vomiting and fever.
Although there is no treatment for the infection, cryptosporidium causes a self-limiting illness that is generally not life-threatening. It can, however, present more harm to those with weakened immune systems, such as HIV and AIDS patients, said Dana Soderlund, an epidemiologist from the Department of Health.
Soderlund said the best ways to prevent the infection are hand-washing, changing clothes before eating if playing with animals and avoiding contact with sick animals.
At least one calf at the camp was infected with the parasite.
Every child at the camp is assigned one calf. The children name, feed, change bedding and play with their calves.
Alfredo DiCostanzo, a faculty supervisor at the camp, said the outbreak probably started with children touching other children after playing with an infected animal. Now, camp officials have taken extra measures to ensure sanitation at the camp. Aside from removing the sick calves, they have increased the number of hand-washing stations and started supervised hand-washing.
Therese Ockenden’s 8-year-old son Alex attended the camp last week. Ockenden said camp organizers did “an unbelievable job” of making the children aware of the need to wash hands carefully at the camp.
“There was no one that could make kids understand it better,” Ockenden said. “I certainly hope it doesn’t stop them next year. It would be really sad.”
Although the Department of Health has no plans to close the camp, it is monitoring the situation.
“Calves have an inherent potential to transmit organisms to humans. Any time you have this kind of program, you’re putting yourself at risk,” Soderlund said.
“If people are aware of the risk and if the facility takes measures to ensure adequate and supervised hand-washing facilities, we won’t shut them down. If we see further transmission, that’s when we’ll shut them down,” she added.
The weeklong day camp started June 12 and will end Aug. 11. An average of 60 to 80 children attend the camp every week, and a total of more than 600 children will attend the camp this summer.
The camp exposes children to farm life, including how to take care of an animal; animal health, with veterinarian visits to the camp; animal nutrition; food preparation, when the children make bread, butter and ice cream; and a field trip to a family farm.
Three children were infected on the second week of the camp. So far, no parents have cancelled their children’s enrollment to the camp.

Fabiana Torreao welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.